Quick, clear news releases leave no room for online rumors
Published: Sep 25, 2018 06:08 PM
We journalists usually have a different holiday schedule from the general public. This past Mid-Autumn Festival, I was on a standby situation Friday as we don't print the newspaper from Saturday to Monday.

No journalists are ever in real rest mode, as we constantly have to keep an eye on what's happening in the world and update our social media accounts as soon as something happens. We wish for peace and harmony, but at the same time, we react quickly whenever there is breaking news.

Friday morning, I watched two episodes of a hot TV series that I don't have time to follow during the week. As I was planning how to kill my time in the afternoon, I suddenly saw a thread in my WeChat about an accident that took place at the intersection of Nanjing Road West and Shaanxi Road North in downtown Shanghai.

I was wondering whether it was real or fake news. Shanghai Fabu, the official WeChat account of the Shanghai municipal government, announced the accident, citing a news release from the public security bureau of Jing'an district, where the accident occurred.

"A 54-year-old female bus driver surnamed Qian is in police custody after her vehicle caused two deaths and one injury in downtown Shanghai Friday morning. Drunk driving or doping has been excluded. The cause of the accident is under investigation," read the release.

Brief and clear. The official announcement spread fast enough to prevent any speculation and rumors from being coined. As a standby journalist that day, the task was light and easy for me; I sent my colleagues in Beijing an English version of the Chinese news release. With millions of international followers on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, the correct information was made available to the world.

Journalists, however, are not always this lucky to obtain the "who did what where and when and why, how?" facts in China. What's worse, rumors get in the way, misleading both the public and official media outlets if authoritative voices are not heard soon after the breaking news.

Several months ago, when a killing spree took place near the gate of a key foreign language primary school in downtown Shanghai's Xuhui district, rumors arrived much faster than the facts, simply because the official news release was issued too late. The gap left room for deliberate rumors and fake news to be spread.

Two boys were killed by a knife-wielding middle-aged man in the tragedy. However, a real estate agent began to spread a rumor that it was an angry father who sought revenge on the school after his "sponsor fee" failed to guarantee a spot for his child. The agent craved attention and readership of his WeChat so he could get more real estate deals and earn more commission.

His rumor satisfied the general public very well given the fact that Chinese parents must fiercely compete for a spot in key schools for their child. People tend to believe rumors that fit their preconceived notions before trying to ascertain whether it's actually true or not.

Government departments worsen the situation when they delay announcing the official version of the news. The public has reason to believe that the later the government reveals the truth, the more the government is trying to cover it up. People won't consider that there are privacy or safety concerns. Thus, when the official version finally comes out, the public are skeptical.

Official departments are in a very passive position in gaining trust from the Chinese public. But the latest case set a good example in informing people of all the details concerning the accident. Before the three-day holiday, the quick and prompt reaction assured the public that it was an individual albeit tragic case of a reckless bus driver, not terrorism or a psychopath on the loose.

As a journalist, I would be more than happy to see this practice as a brand new beginning for official news releases in Shanghai, which will benefit the government as much as it will the public.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT